PHOTO GALLERY: The New School of Convenience
SAN ANTONIO — College students today are no different than those of yesteryears in that their busy, on-the-go lifestyles demand ease and convenience. What is different, however, is how their perspectives on ease and convenience have evolved, with students today demanding more from their on-campus experience and the way convenience is delivered to them.
Enter Cyber Café, a first-of-its-kind on-campus convenience store developed through a partnership between Our Lady of the Lake University (OLLU) in San Antonio and Chartwells Higher Education, a company dedicated to reinventing the on-campus dining experience.
Open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, the 1,200-square-foot OLLU Cyber Café is unique in that it is completely self-service, offering busy students a cashierless experience.
"Students tell us that they really like the variety available in the store and they appreciate the 24/7 access because it fits with their schedules," said Shaun Comeaux, director of dining services for Chartwells Higher Education.
Of Chartwells' 24 higher education accounts in Texas, Cyber Café is the first to provide 24/7 cashierless service, according to Comeaux.
A New Take on Tradition
The idea for Cyber Café arose when a new apartment-style residence hall with full kitchens opened on the OLLU campus last year. Armed with the knowledge that students were seeking a store that offers extended hours to accommodate their schedules and an expanded assortment of grocery items for those who frequently cook for themselves, OLLU and Chartwells came together to convert the space that would eventually become Cyber Café.
It took six months to bring the concept to fruition. Members of OLLU and Chartwells' IT staff worked together using technology already deployed on-campus to outfit the c-store. Swipe-card access technology, security cameras and cashier terminals used in other campus operations were modified for use in the new self-serve retail environment.
The six-month conversion process also included time to maximize and optimize the space, and install and test the in-store technology. The Cyber Café opened in fall 2017, but did not offer cashierless service until spring 2018.
Now, students access Cyber Café via a swipe-card access system using their OLLU ID. Once they've selected their items and have their shopping lists ticked off, they scan and swipe their debit, credit or university dining card to pay.
Serving approximately 2,500 students a week, Cyber Café carries everything a traditional convenience store would — from candy to snacks to packaged beverages — plus a few grocery additions and some health and beauty care items.
While the self-service system goes by the honor system, Cyber Café is equipped and monitored with security cameras. Additionally, the store is managed by a Chartwells employee, who handles the inventory, orders, stocking and keeping the convenience store clean.
Describing Cyber Café as "convenient, abundant, easy-to-use and high-tech," Comeaux shared with Convenience Store News that Chartwells Higher Education is working on a similar store model at a few of its other 23 partner universities.
Click below to download our full report, "Welcome to the New School of Convenience," for more on Cyber Café.